You can’t build a stronger body with meat alone. (Photo: Bruce-Block/iStock/Getty Images)
Often the unsung heroes on your plate, these six muscle-building veggies are truly must-haves in every athlete’s kitchen. Adding them to your diet will help maximize your energy mid-workout, reduce recovery time post-workout, achieve strength gains and improve body composition.
1. Beets and Beet Greens: Dietary Nitrates and Antioxidants
Why: In conditions of low oxygen availability (such as intense exercise), dietary nitrates in beets are converted to nitric oxide, which enhances vascular function. This helps improve your tolerance to strenuous exercise and can help you train harder for greater strength gains. Beet greens are also rich in vitamins A and C, both powerful antioxidants.
Related: The 6 Rules of Gaining Muscle Mass
How: Use grated beets as a hearty salad garnish, or try adding between a quarter-cup and a half-cup of diced raw beets to a smoothie. Beets pair well with chocolate protein powders and frozen berries.
2. Microgreens and Sprouts: Anti-inflammatory Phytonutrients
Why: Rich in enzymes that support digestion, sprouts are especially helpful for absorbing amino acids from protein in your diet. Additionally, sprouts contain many phytonutrients benefiting muscle recovery, such as sulforaphane and glucoraphanin, found in broccoli sprouts, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
How: Add sprouts to wraps, sandwiches and burgers.
3. Barley and Wheat Grass: Carotenoids and Minerals
Why: These edible grasses contain mixed carotenoids (powerful antioxidants), which reduce cellular aging and keep your tissues looking healthy. They also both contain the minerals iron, calcium and magnesium, which play a crucial role in muscle function as well as the ability of your blood to carry oxygen to working muscles. This benefits your stamina mid-workout for improved strength gains.
How: Try boosting your smoothies with a shot of fresh, frozen or dried wheat grass or barley grass juice.Incorporating these foods doesn’t have to be intimidating. Many can be combined in one meal to be efficient, such as in a salad, smoothie or wrap. Aim to include each food throughout the week, having at least one food from this list daily.
4. Parsley, Chives and Leeks: Lysine
Why: Herbs such as parsley, chives and leeks not only add flavor in your meals, they also boost the amount of lysine in your diet. Lysine is an amino acid that helps support the growth of connective tissues found in your tendons and cartilage. This helps your joints recover well from heavy lifting or high-impact workouts.
How: Garnish your meals with diced parsley or chives, and add leeks to sauteed vegetable dishes.
5. Spirulina: Amino Acids Used in Metabolism
Why: Spirulina is blue-green algae that contains amino acids (including arginine) and is a source of vitamin B6, required for the metabolism of carbs, proteins and fats. Additionally, B6 is used in converting amino acids into useable forms by the body. It’s a valuable nutrient for any athlete with a higher-protein diet.
How: Rotate in your diet alongside chlorella, using either sea vegetable interchangeably.
6. Spinach: Arginine
Why: While we might not think of leafy greens as a rich source of protein, spinach is a good source of the amino acid arginine, which stimulates the pituitary gland to produce and secrete human-growth hormone, which in turn increases metabolism.
How: Create a meal with 25 grams of complete protein by lightly sauteing in coconut oil one cup each of cooked grains (such as quinoa or brown rice), cooked legumes (such as lentils or black beans) and fresh spinach. Toss in your favorite herbs or spices to season. Serve in a bowl with sliced avocado or olives to garnish.
The original article “8 Must-Have Veggies for Building Muscle“ appeared on LIVESTRONG.COM.
By Emma Andrews
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